The official message is simple: Starting today, nearly all teachers and other employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District finally will get paid the right amount.
The reassurance comes after nearly a year of payroll problems, including over- and underpayments. Some teachers’ paychecks have varied widely from month to month, without a coherent explanation of the calculations.
But district officials say payday will be different this month because of headway made by a fleet of staff members and consultants, including image specialists hired to get out a positive public message.
“I am happy to report that we have succeeded in correcting a major defect with our payroll system,” Supt. David L. Brewer wrote in a letter mailed to employees and delivered to campuses Friday. He was referring to the system’s apparent inability to adjust when a teacher changes assignments.
The district was confident enough to raise expectations with a minor media blitz that included a 6 a.m. news conference and repeated broadcasts on KLCS, the district-owned public television station.
Progress to date has not been sufficient to placate teacher frustration or to calm teachers union officials, who are running for reelection and striving to attain the right balance of demonstrative protests combined with patient collaboration behind the scenes. In the long run, the union will need to continue working with district officials to simplify pay rules, district officials said.
Union leaders have filed a lawsuit, an unsuccessful strategy to date, and urged a teacher boycott of faculty meetings, among other measures.
District officials have called the boycott illegal. Meanwhile, some principals are using unofficial gatherings to meet with teachers to continue academic planning.
Perhaps the worst single payday was a June debacle that became known as Black Tuesday. Since then, each payday has seen several thousand inaccurate checks, but the errors have gradually decreased in magnitude, district officials said. The vast majority of recent mistakes are overpayments, they added.
If major problems continue this month, union officials will be standing by in a rented RV parked next to L.A. Unified’s downtown headquarters. There, they’ll hold forth to the media, meet with their rank-and-file and provide refreshments to any teachers who, once more, need to wait in line to resolve pay issues.
With 2007 coming to a close, income tax forms present an additional worry, said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “Our members are very concerned about their taxes,” Duffy wrote in a statement. “LAUSD has told us that they may not be able to meet with all UTLA members before the end of the calendar year. Our members are concerned that their payroll issues will be resolved way too late.”
District officials have tabulated overpayments of $53 million, money that must be returned. At a recent news conference, Brewer urged employees not to spend suspected overpayments.
Of course, it’s hard for many employees to know one way or another. Beverly Ann Ball’s monthly paychecks have fluctuated from $1,033 to $3,269. Anedra Harper did not receive a paycheck for three months this summer, and eventually took out $15,000 in loans to say afloat. An exhausted Rosanna White spent seven hours at district headquarters without ever finding someone who could make sense of her July paycheck.
This time around, “employees’ paychecks may be different, but [they are] more likely to be correct,” said spokeswoman Binti Harvey. According to her data, “82.4% of all system defects have been fixed, and another 10.4% will be fixed” by the December payday.
If an amount seems slightly off or just different, wrote Brewer, “I urge you to wait a few days after payday before contacting the Service Center, so that those of your co-workers who have significant payroll issues can get the priority service.”
If the amount is “substantially wrong,” he added in boldface type, don’t delay in sounding the alarm.
Recent fixes, he said, include the ability to determine the amount of under- and overpayments. Affected employees who have not already been contacted will be notified in the next two weeks or so to discuss a repayment plan.
The cost of the remedy continues to rise. The payroll system was part of a $95-million technology upgrade; up to $37 million in additional funds has been set aside to fix it.
“I am deeply sorry for the months of inconvenience, confusion and anxiety these payroll problems have caused many of our hardworking, dedicated employees,” Brewer wrote.
It’s a familiar apology that Brewer hopes will not have to repeated on future paydays.